Walk with Us At the Water: One 5x5 Partners with Bde Maka Ska Artists


COVID-19 hasn’t stopped Sonja Kuftinec, Margaret Werry, Tracy Kugler, and Emily Stover from seeing through their plans as a 5x5 initiative interested in how art-work impacts how we care about and for place. In fact, although their work together as a group would have wrapped up last spring, the pandemic has created additional opportunities for unexpected community collaboration, all of which led to an event this Saturday, October 17, with Catalyst Arts: Walk with Us At the Water: A Honoring, A Connection, A Gathering of Resources.

The 5x5—a small group of faculty and researchers at the University, designed to gather and explore new ideas in a low-stakes, interdisciplinary setting—originally planned to organize a conversation between a few scholars and several of the artists who worked on the Bde Maka Ska art installation, Sandra Spieler, Angela Two Stars, and Mona Smith. Although COVID delayed their conversation, a connection arose when 5x5 member Sonja Kuftinec, professor of theatre arts and dance in the College of Liberal Arts, who sits on the board of Catalyst Arts, was speaking with Shá Cage, artistic director of Catalyst, about an art walk the organization was hoping to do around Bde Maka Ska. The idea for merging plans and bringing the artists into the fold came together from there. The timing, too, suddenly made sense to everyone involved, and makes a walk about gathering, honoring, and connecting feel all the more necessary:

“We’re thinking about this within the bigger picture of where we are right now in the Twin Cities, with these two pandemics that have hit us very close together,” says Kuftinec. “The pandemic of COVID, which limits our capacity to be together, and the pandemic of systemic racial disparity and the violence that is associated with that.”

“I’m often inspired by how organically this came together,” says Cage. “I feel like from a tiny idea that you guys had that connected to what I had seen the possibility for came together and now we’ve already opened up a lot of people’s eyes—who weren’t even making the connection to the native people who lived and farmed on this land, and what it means to actually be removed and come back.”

Saturday’s event will be bookended by opening and closing prayers at sunrise (7:32 a.m.) and noon at the installation (39th Street and Bde Maka Ska Parkway), and four additional stations will be located around the lake for those who wish to walk, learn more, and engage in the reflection prompts provided by the artists along the way. Each will focus on themes including Ohiŋniyaŋ Ded Wati Kte: This Place Will Always Be Home, Wóoȟaŋwaśte: Generosity, Wówaditake: Bravery, and Wačiŋtanka: Perserverance. Prompts will be offered in English and Dakhóta, to encourage participants to engage more deeply with language, ideas, and place. Artist Sandra Spieler will teach one of the water blessing songs, and those attending are also encouraged to bring a glass jar in order to participate in the water blessing. (A few glass jars will be made available for those who do not have their own.) Any resources that can be offered are also encouraged, and will support Catalyst Arts.

The group’s hope is that participants will come with an open mind that is focused on being present. Kuftinec recalls what artist Mona Smith often says: “We want people not to learn about about Indians, but to learn from Indigenous people.” Western ways of thinking, she situates, too often place Indigenous peoples’ pasts as historical, when in fact in a Dakhóta cosmology or Indigenous cosmology, the past is always happening; it is always with us. Part of the honoring involved in this event is about recognizing land and history as ongoing. “That’s the call, that’s the invitation,” Kuftinec says.

While this is the first walk put together by Catalyst Arts in partnership with the Bde Maka Ska Installation, it is deeply inspired by Sharon Day’s NibiWalks. Shá Cage says she hopes this will be the first of many more.

Walk with Us At the Water is free and open to the public. Attendees are encouraged to walk under any COVID-safe parameters they need, and at any time. There will be able space to spread out during sunrise and noon prayers. There are many ways to participate, gather, and connect. Full details, including how to register and pledge, can be found here.



The Institute for Advanced Study’s 5x5 initiative brings together small groups of people (about 5 people) from differing disciplinary backgrounds and positions in the University and off-campus communities for a low-stakes, short-term exploration (about 5 gatherings over several months). The goals are simple: for participants (you) to engage with people across disciplines and other boundaries in order to learn about and appreciate different perspectives and methods; to expand your intellectual and personal networks; to have a space and a group to explore new ideas. Learn more.

This site honors the Dakota grounding of this entire region through the specific honor of Ḣeyata Ọtuŋwe (Village to the Side) and Maḣpiya Wicạ ṡṭa (Cloud Man)- the Dakota community and leader who lived here in the 1830s. The planning and creating of this site coincided with civic discussions to return the name of the lake to its original Dakota name. As such, the design and enactment of the art on this site provide a step of reparation for the history of Minneapolis—an act of bravery for the families and individuals who have been at the forefront of that name change/reclamation. It also invites bravery on behalf of all people to embrace a fuller history of this site by accepting the name reclamation of Bde Maka Ska. bdemakaska.net

Catalyst Arts is a small arts incubator interested in the intersection of art + activism and artists who define themselves as changemakers. We place a particular emphasis on increasing the visibility of and providing a platform for artists whose voices have historically been underrepresented in the arts, including (but not limited to): artists of color, LGBTQIA+ artists, immigrants, Indigenous, low-income, and artists exploring non-traditional pathways to success. We are committed to forging new partnerships in rural areas; convening meaningful conversations around race, gender, and politics; supporting the multi- disciplinary development of new work…while nurturing emerging artists and career professionals through experimentation, workshops, consulting, trainings and mentorship. catalystarts.mn



Blog Categories